Ecuador's climate plan worth a look
Developed countries including Canada have insisted it is imperative that developing countries should also shoulder responsibility for combating greenhouse-gas emissions if they expect a truly effective international approach to dealing with climate change.
This insistence has been particularly important for the United States and European Union, as well as Canadian governments of the past and present.
Although many such countries see China as a pivotal state in accepting its responsibility for cutting emissions of CO2, they also want other less developed countries to do their part. One leader who has come forward with an offer to meet the demands of more advanced states is Rafael Correa, Ecuador's populist-inclined president.
In a recent address to the United Nations, Correa announced that his government was prepared to forgo development of a major deposit of crude oil in Ecuador's Yasuni National Park, a UNESCO heritage site, if the international community would provide compensatory funding to partially offset revenue lost from not extracting 846 million barrels of oil from the remote region, which is home to indigenous people.
In effect, the government led by Correa would leave the oil underground indefinitely if donor countries provided $3.6 billion U.S., a sum that would represent half of the revenue lost to the Ecuadorian state. The money would go into a capital fund to be administered by the United Nations Development Program, UNDP.
The fund's capital would be invested in renewable energy projects in Ecuador that could promise stable and safe returns, taking advantage of the country's vast hydroelectric, geothermal, wind and solar potential, in order to overcome its current dependence on fossil fuels, which now account for almost half of all power generation in Ecuador.
Ecuador has been an oil exporting nation since 1972.
According to Correa, his proposal would be an innovative way to combat global warming by avoiding the production of fossil fuels in areas that are highly biologically and culturally sensitive and would protect the biodiversity of Ecuador. (It would also reduce the risk of deforestation in the vulnerable pristine forests of the region, key reservoirs of uncontaminated fresh air for the entire planet.)
Correa's commitment to refrain from exploiting proven reserves of 846 million barrels of heavy crude oil would reportedly prevent the emission of 407 million tons of CO2.
2 As Nicolas Stern said: "Even if the rich world takes on responsibility for absolute cuts in emissions of 60-to 80 per cent by 2050, developing countries must take significant actions too."
By making his proposal, Correa has now accepted the challenge to do something concrete and positive in the international endeavour to reduce CO2 emissions.
"This would be an extraordinary example of global collective action," he said. "(It) would not only reduce global warming, which benefits the whole planet, but also introduce a new economic logic for the 21st century, which assigns a value to things other than merchandise."
At a time when a growing number of respected scientists are expressing increased concern over seemingly escalating climate change caused by human actions, including alarming ice melt in the Canadian Arctic, Correa's own proposal clearly isn't something to be dismissed out of hand.
However, it's obvious that during the current extremely difficult and increasingly dangerous economic times, few would be surprised if developed countries were unwilling or unable to come forward with the money.
Some of a more cynical mind might see Correa's proposal as essentially intended to be a win-win situation for him.
If the international community somehow were to agree to the proposal, his government will be the beneficiary of a major infusion of about $3.6 billion U.S., money received for simply not developing an oilfield at no actual cost to itself.
But if rich countries are not prepared to support his proposal, he can say that he at least did try to answer their demand to do something concrete about decreasing CO2 emissions and combating global climate change, which a majority of the world's respected scientists maintain is fast reaching a dangerous tipping point with highly negative ramifications for the entire international community.
Thus, from a purely personal standpoint - and regardless of his true motive - Correa has more or less ensured that he stands to benefit from his proposal regardless of whether it's accepted or not.
And the president, who is in a constant confrontation with his country's political opposition parties, could also stand to benefit from the gambit when Ecuador's 2013 election comes around.
Harry Sterling, a former diplomat, is an Ottawa-based commentator.